Home > History > Johnny Appleseed: Enabler?

Johnny Appleseed: Enabler?

*The following report is based on the program “Botany of Desire” which aired on PBS last night.

Johnny Appleseed (AKA John Chapman): missionary, tree farmer, and inadvertent harbinger of alcoholism? Say what? I became aware last night of a fascinating historical correlation that linked Johnny’s apples to a generation of hard-cider swilling vagrants. Read on.

-In order to understand how this came to be, we must first understand the nature of the apple. Apple seeds, by their natural temperament, are governed by the laws of  heterozygosity. Meaning, in this case, that planting an apple seed is a veritable free-for-all. Ergo, the offspring of a seed more often than not will produce fruit that is radically different than the parent plant. And equally as often, the new tree will yield fruit with a bitter, gut-wrenching taste. Neato.

-So where do we keep getting our favorites such as Red Delicious, Granny Smith, and the best apple of all time, the Honeycrisp? Through the wonderful world of grafting! A simple root-stock is planted, and a bud from the desired species is grafted onto that root-stock, producing a tree with those genes. Amazing.

-You are probably wondering where Johnny fits into all of this. Cool your jets, we’re getting there. When Mr. Appleseed was making the rounds with his almost fetish-like love for apples, he would plant only the seeds.  Johnny would then skip the scene when the seedlings were big enough to grow on their own. Note that no grafting took place. Oh no!

-As immigrants continued to arrive in the U.S., they were very skeptical of the water supply, and also had a large cache of awful-tasting apples, thanks to J-Chap. So naturally, they figured, “why not make some hard cider?”  The fermentation process would get rid of any threat of contamination, leaving behind a boozy, apple-y blend that may or may not cause blindness. And BAM! By the 1830s, cider fever had reached a boiling point, with the only solution in sight being to drink more hard cider.

-At that point in the program I stopped paying attention, but I assume everything turned out OK, because we’re all still here right? Well, I’m about to go absolutely wreck a nice juicy Braeburn. Happy Wednesday.

This innocent fruit cost a man his marriage, house, and dignity.

Here’s the Blong. “Very Small Rock” by Happy Apple. Not the best sound quality, but a very good song.
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